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Freaking Out About Coronavirus? Here’s How to Stay Calm In Front of the Kids

These are trying times and you have every reason to be scared. For the sake of your kids, get a poker face.

The coronavirus pandemic is drastically altering life as we all know it. People are getting sick. Schools are closing. Businesses, too. There are likely 1,094,221 things swirling around your head right now. Maybe it’s How the hell am I going to work from home while taking care of my kids? Or maybe it’s How can I take care of my elderly parents and neighbors without putting them in harm’s way? In short, there’s a lot going on and it’s completely natural to have moments where you’re anxious, stressed, and, well, freaking out a bit.

That said, it’s important to be a source of steadiness and calm for children. You still need to show up. Easier said than done, of course. Kids are emotional tuning forks, able to pick up on — and be affected by — a parent’s state of mind very easily. As the coronavirus crisis continues, parents will need to explain things clearly and calmly without infesting their kids with any additional anxiety and without leaning on them for support. So, how can parents remain calm and explain things to kids when they’re freaking out internally? It’s time to perfect your parenting poker face.

A good poker face doesn’t mean scrubbing all negative emotions; it means obscuring them from the person with whom you’re interacting. This requires a little practice and a good deal of roleplaying. So, be prepared to stand in front of a mirror. But it’s worth it to be a source of calm for you kids. Here, then, is how to put your best face forward.

How to Create a Good Poker Face

Build a Character

“As the saying goes, we don’t feel emotion, we do emotion,” says Philip Adcock, a commercial psychologist who and author of Master Your Brain: Training Your Mind for Success in Life.  “Humans are excellent in spotting and reacting to facial expressions. Our foreheads, our eyes, and our lips are all giveaways to how we really feel.”

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They certainly do. And when we’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or sad, we broadcast it. One way around this, however — and the key to a good poker face — is by doing some pre-conversation role playing.

Prior to talking to kids, Adcock recommends visualizing the demeanor of someone who provided you calm and comfort. Maybe it’s a priest, a doctor, or the one and only Mister Rogers. Whoever it is, imagine them expressing what it is you need to express. Ask yourself: How would they do it? How does their body look? What does their face look like? Where do they put their hands? How do they react?

Poker expert Michael Josem agrees with the methodology. “Practice in front of a mirror, practice with a peer, practice with a friend, and practice with trusted confidants,” he says. “Expert poker players don’t go through complicated strategies to hide their emotions, but rather, through much practice, they eliminate the emotions.”

The more you practice, the better your face will be.

Ask Yourself: What Would Mister Rogers Say?

So much of a poker face is actually about one’s voice. It’s simple: You won’t bluff convincingly if your voice gives you away. So, when you’re practicing in-character, you want your voice to be as reassuring as possible. “Slow, melodious tones and steady deep breathing are best,” says Adcock. “Just about anyone listening and showing empathy will talk slowly and in soft tones.”

Take a moment to practice talking in a neutral tone. A few good voices to consider: Mister Rogers (again). A late-night radio presenter. Or, one of Adcock’s personal favorites, Alan Rickman’s Han Gruber in Die Hard (“His voice is just spot on”). The man may have tried to blow up Nakatomi Plaza, but his tone rarely oscillated.

Take a Few Moments to Relax

“Relax, relax and relax some more,” says Adcock. “You need to minimize tension, because the more you feel tense, the more it will show in your face, tone of voice, and touch.” Wiggle your nose. Open and close your mouth to get blood flowing in your face. Take some deep breaths. Whatever you do, take a few minutes to decompress before the conversation so that you’re ready to talk to your kids in the calmest way possible.

How to Keep Your Poker Face During the Conversation.

Find a Good Location

Equally as important as the look of your face and tone of your voice is the setting of the discussion. “Talk to your children in an environment that is silent or that has quiet slow tones in the background,” recommends Adcock. And sit on something soft: “The softer our surroundings, the more relaxed we become.”

Maintain Eye Contact

Eye contact helps build confidence. Plus, meeting someone’s eyes tells them that you have nothing to hide. Need somewhere else to focus? The bridge of the nose or in between someone’s eyebrows are excellent options.

Hide Your Tells

Hand wringing. Foot tapping. Touching your face. Looking out of the corner of your eyes. General fidgeting of any kind. Each of these tells reveals something beneath the surface. In poker, they cost you money. In life, they cost you confidence. The key is to avoid and/or isolate these bad habits. Can’t stop moving your hands? Put them in your pocket. Can’t stop tapping your foot? Make sure you’re having the conversation somewhere with a carpet that will absorb the sound.

Speak Clearly and Concisely

Some poker players don’t talk at all; others talk incessantly to rattle competitors. That won’t work here. Using that slow, methodical voice you practiced, explain what needs to be explained while doing your best not to change tone or cadence. Take pauses. Breathe. Answer any questions in the same tone. You don’t need to be completely stone-faced. And remember: No matter how stressed out you are, it’s important in difficult times to be a pillar of strength for your kids.